Expert Article Library

Medical Expert Testimony Inadmissible in Zoloft by Pfizer Wrongful Death Suit

Case Name: Miller v. Pfizer (Click here for the full text of the case)

Court: United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit

Date: February 4, 2004

Expert: Neuropsychopharmacologist. Dr. David Healy

Issues: Was the district court correct in not allowing Dr. Healy to testify because of gaps in his analysis?

Summary of case: Mark and Cheryl Miller were the parents of Matthew Miller. A doctor prescribed Matthew the antidepressant Zoloft; one week later Matthew committed suicide. Matthew’s parents sued Pfizer, the maker of Zoloft, in a wrongful death action claiming that Matthew committed suicide because of Zoloft.

Role of the expert: Dr. Healy gave opinions under deposition that Zoloft was the cause of Matthew’s suicide. He based his opinions on articles and studies involving Zoloft and other similar drugs. Of these studies, he placed the most emphasis on his own healthy-volunteer study, two "challenge-dechallenge-rechallenge" reports, and a study conducted by Dr. Ian Hindmarch. He also relied on depositions from this case; testimony, depositions, and exhibits from other cases; Pfizer documents; an application of what are known as Koch's postulates (which are employed to evaluate causality); and a meta-analysis he performed using Pfizer’s data. Miller at 1328

Challenges to the Expert's testimony: Pfizer challenged Dr. Healy’s testimony under the standard for admitting expert witness testimony set out by the Supreme Court of the U.S. in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993). The district court appointed two independent experts to review Dr. Healy’s methodology and causation conclusion. After investigation, the two experts filed a report with the district court that discredited Dr. Healy’s claims. The court followed the opinions of the court appointed experts and ruled much of Dr. Healy’s testimony inadmissible. The court agreed with the independent experts that Dr. Healy’s conclusions should be questioned. They discredited Dr. Healy’s conclusion for the following reasons: Dr. Healy’s studies have not been the subject of peer review; Dr. Healy did not use any control groups in his studies; the sample-size used in the studies was small; and there were many interactions between researchers and participants during the studies. The court’s independent experts were also wary of Dr. Healy’s use of the Koch postulates, saying he misapplied the first six postulates and did not apply the seventh. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s application of the standard set out in Daubert. It denied the argument made by the Miller’s that the district court was to thorough when it examined the testimony of Dr. Healy.

Summary prepared by B. Kass, Student, The University of California Hastings College of the Law